No need to remind Sam Ehlinger about those costly late-game turnovers last season. “Yeah, I was there,” Ehlinger said Thursday.
And there’s no reason to think Shane Buechele will be happy idling. “In my opinion, you never want to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be the guy on the sideline with the headset on,’” Buechele said.
Both quarterbacks have designs on being Texas’ starter at Maryland on Sept. 1. In the end, that competitive fire is a good thing for the Longhorns, who open fall practice on Friday.
“Right now, my body feels unbelievable,” Buechele said. The junior started seven games last season but has battled all sorts of injuries while at UT. “This is the best it’s ever felt, and now I just gotta keep it like that.”
Ehlinger, the sophomore who started the other six, said his sole mission is to protect the football and move the offense.
“I would say it’s both of our jobs to lose,” Ehlinger said. “I’d say that we’re going to go into it with a winning mentality like we always have. I don’t think anything’s changed, and may the best man win.”
Oh, and for the record …
“The guy that will take the first snap (on Friday) will be Sam,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “He’s earned that because obviously just going all the way back to the winter where Shane was hurt and rehabbing.”
Ehlinger and Buechele will split time with the first-team offense, Herman said. Freshman Cameron Rising also will see some action with the first team. But Rising and fellow freshman Casey Thompson will generally work with the second team.
“When would we like to announce (a starter)? I think when it becomes obvious,” Herman said. “I think the sooner the better, for sure. But as I’ve said before, coaches really don’t make that decision. The players themselves make that decision when they separate themselves.”
Until Texas finds a consistent, championship-level quarterback, this program will be forever stuck in neutral. It’s a major reason why the Longhorns are merely five games over .500 since the start of the 2010 season.
Buechele was practically indestructible in 2016, battling through various ailments to start all 12 games. He threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns. It helped that running back D’Onta Foreman won the Doak Walker Award that season.
With play-action pass capability, Texas had a dynamic offense and Buechele wasn’t forced to improvise that much.
But last season, Herman’s first in Austin, was almost the total opposite. The Longhorns had mediocre blocking, no star power at tailback and a pedestrian running game. Thus defenders could cheat toward the line of scrimmage, pin their ears back and come after Buechele and Ehlinger.
Ehlinger nearly pulled off a dramatic road win at USC last season but fumbled the ball on the goal line in double overtime. He also threw a game-ending interception against Oklahoma State and a critical interception late against Texas Tech.
Those three losses tempered Herman’s love of the swaggering gunslinger from Westlake.
“I honestly think it’s just experience,” Ehlinger said. “Playing against Southlake Carroll in my first road game (in high school), I was 15. Playing against USC in my first road game, I was 18. That’s going against people who are three to four years older than you.
“A whole year in the system and a whole year in the game changes everything tremendously from a mentality as well as how you play the game,” Ehlinger added.
Buechele started the Texas Bowl but suffered a hip injury just before halftime. Ehlinger played the second half as Texas beat Missouri 33-16.
That alone prompted off-season speculation that Buechele would transfer. He had surgery for a torn muscle in his hip and abdomen. Thus, Ehlinger was Herman’s guy, or so it seemed.
Asked if he’s been asked about transferring, Buechele said, “I have been. But that’s the last thing on my mind right now. What’s important to me is the guys I’m around, and just this quarterback battle and making this team a lot better.”
Both players said they studied their mistakes during the offseason. Ehlinger watched some film of pro quarterbacks and will focus more on avoiding direct contact. Herman and the offensive coaches are begging Ehlinger to slide more this season.
“That’s coming from everyone, my mom especially,” Ehlinger said. “Please slide.”
Ehlinger said he was diagnosed with only one concussion last season — against Oklahoma State. All the team doctors in the stands at the Cotton Bowl, would probably disagree, though.
Buechele has worked under two completely different coaching staffs and believes he can still improve. Even if he loses the starting job for the Maryland game, he’s always one play away from going back in.
“Obviously I haven’t thought about (being the backup). It’s hard to think about,” Buechele said. “That’s why being in the position I’m in, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now, it’s just a huge focus on this fall camp and what’s going to happen.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
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